Event planning case study: Dance collaboration at Pallant House Gallery

An event linking dance with art

For our Museums at Night event in May, Pallant House Gallery in Chichester invited dancers from the University of Chichester’s 3Fall Dance Company to perform site-specific improvisational dance in response to the Leon Underwood: Figure and Rhythm exhibition. There was also a drop-in life drawing workshop featuring dancers in both static and fluid poses and a Q&A discussion with the dancers following the performances.

A life drawing sketch of the dancers in motion (c) Pallant House Gallery

How did this collaboration come about?

I met Cathy Childs, Head of Dance at the University of Chichester, in 2014 after I learned that the Margaret Morris Movement summer school was held at the university every summer. At the time, our main exhibition was a retrospective of the Scottish painter JD Fergusson, whose wife was Margaret Morris, so it was the ideal opportunity to discuss future collaborations.

Although the dance department was not directly involved in the summer school, Cathy had just been on a training course on how to use art as a stimulus for dance and was eager to explore this relationship. She came to see our Leon Underwood exhibition and was inspired to invite 3Fall, a contemporary dance company based at the university, to collaborate with us for Museums at Night.

How did the evening go?

The evening began with life drawing in the Studio, where the public could sketch the dancers in static and fluid poses. The dancers then performed in pairs or individually in each room of the exhibition before coming together for a final performance in response to Underwood’s painting Venus in Kensington Gardens (1921).

The visitor experience

We found a whole new audience eager for the rare chance to draw moving figures – many of them stayed to sketch the performances themselves. Seeing how dancers, audience members and artists all interacted and created new work together was an absolute privilege. There was a real sense that new connections between dancers and artists were being formed – relationships which would extend beyond the Gallery.

What did we learn?

While there were many practicalities to consider such as controlling audience numbers in the gallery spaces and safeguarding the artworks, the connections forged between different art practitioners made it a unique experience for everyone involved.

What’s next?

We’re keen to not only invite dancers back to respond to our other exhibitions but also to invite other artists to respond to them such as photographers, writers, sculptors and so on. We’re also keen to invite in younger audiences and even hold events where the audience can dance and move themselves. The opportunities are endless with this sort of collaboration.

Sandra Peaty was Head of Learning and Community at Pallant House Gallery, and co-founded Partners in Art.

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